The joy of basketball: HBA boys exuberant despite losses to Kamehameha

HBA senior Enzo Mazulli (5) and junior Austin Fujikawa (15) defend against Kamehameha senior Oni Pung during exhibition action at Dan Liu Gymnasium on Saturday. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

Difficult to say, that’s for sure.

How far could the 2020-21 Kamehameha Warriors boys basketball team have gone if not for the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Warriors trounced a game Hawaii Baptist squad in a home-and-home exhibition series on Friday and Saturday. It was a demonstration of depth, versatility and relentless defensive pressure by Kamehameha.

Even with the graduation of Star-Advertiser All-State player of the year Christmas Togiai and All-State guard Kordel Ng, plus the departure of 6-foot-6 wing EJ Kapihe, the Warriors haven’t missed a single beat.

Cade Trujillo led them with 16 points on Friday. On Saturday afternoon at HBA’s Dan Liu Gymnasium, only senior post Xavier Lever scored in double figures with 10 points. His classmate, Isaiah Paekui-Cockett, added nine points and 11 Warriors in all got into the scoring column for a 60-26 road win.

School policy prevented Kamehameha coaches and players from participating in post-game interviews, but the joy and hustle of the Warriors from start to finish said plenty.

The Eagles have a young roster and a new head coach in… well, nobody. With the departure of longtime coach George Weeks, HBA has a four-member coaching staff who share the load. It seems to work well. The Eagles were in high-intensity mode all game long, and their cheering from the bench made up for the spectator-free environment.

Kamehameha Coach Larry Park guided the Warriors to the state final last year. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

Team captain Enzo Mazulli paced the Eagles with six points.

“Enzo has been with us for awhile,” assistant coach Kellen Kaneshiro said. “With this whole pandemic, not sure if we’re having a season, you can understand that as a senior, with no certainty of having anything, a lot of them might just say, ‘Hey, I’m just going to enjoy my time to myself and do whatever I want to do.’ He loves basketball so much and he’s been that way since I coached him as a freshman.”

For weeks, Kaneshiro saw a dedicated Eagle on the outside courts. HBA got its first five-on-five work in the gym this week. Mazulli has been a mainstay regardless of circumstances, rain or shine.

“He still came out. He’s one of those three seniors, and he’s one of the last ones left. We had a few more that came out for this basketball experience, but as a returning varsity player from last year, he was the only one that was here from the beginning. He never quit. He still came to practice every day. He worked hard and that’s why he’s the captain,” Kaneshiro said.

Mazulli wasn’t aware that he was, or is, a captain.

“The whole process was tough. The whole offseason, you’re training for something that you don’t really know is going to happen. It’s just really nice to see everyone playing together again,” he said. “We got back in the gym and it’s just a really good experience having basketball again. I really enjoy playing with these guys.”

The coaching staff has also been resilient. Coaches across the state are filled with some of the same disappointment that their seniors are living through with cancelled sports.

“To all seniors, not just here at HBA, my heart goes out to them, man. As an athlete or non-athlete, most people look forward to their senior year. A lot of things to accomplish and experience. Hopefully, they can have graduation, but a lot of that stuff, especially sports-wise, seasons being taken away as a senior, if it happened to me, I don’t know how I would’ve been able to handle that,” Kaneshiro said. “This is kind of unprecedented times. Just keep your head up. Be positive. Take advantage of what there is out there. It’s kind of a new world and it could also be new opportunities, too. It’s tough, but it’s kind of the reality that we’re in now. A lot of us as coaches and teachers, we feel kind of bad, but we hope they can turn it into a positive.”

The testing required of all coaches and players before the games was worthwhile.

“It was really easy. The testers came here. It was a pretty streamlined process. We had to fill out a couple of forms beforehand. It was really fast. They went pretty deep in the nose, so a lot of us were uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, we’re looking at it as we can play basketball, so whatever it takes to get it done, we’re definitely wiling to do it,” Kaneshiro said. “The results came really fast.”

While Kamehameha has more games lined up next week as “Season 1” comes to a close, HBA will lower the curtains after an intrasquad game. No games against other Division II title contenders like University or Le Jardin or Hanalani. There will be no 2020-21 D-II league championship for any team, which leaves Mazulli wondering.

“We all play really well together. We have good chemistry. We played with Coach Kellen and Coach Bryce (Zukemura) in JV, so I really do feel like we would have a good chance if we played D-II,” he said.

Senior night will be next Saturday at HBA.

“Go Eagles. Ca-caaw,” Mazulli said, adding a message for his teammates. “I love you guys. That’s it.”

HBA will close out its basketball experience with an intrasquad game next Saturday. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser


  1. Falcon Future February 21, 2021 12:00 am

    Congratulations to these teams on the success of the games. This serves as proof that it can be done. I still wonder if the ILH and HHSAA are even paying attention or are they content to just collect their paychecks while “deferring” to the state.

    I will say it again, other schools need to follow the lead of Kamehameha and HBA and start running their own games in all sports. I think Iolani is doing this for cross country also. There clearly is no guidance or consequences from the ILH and HHSAA, so the schools need to take matters into their own hands and make it happen themselves before the school year ends

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